Country CD roundup
Have any music lovers on your holiday list? Here's baker's dozen CDs from the recent past for a country-Christmas present.
Have any music lovers on your holiday list? Here's baker's dozen CDs from the recent past for a country-Christmas present. Listen to clips, download the albums or order them from the module below. You can also click on each album cover to order them online.
Alan Jackson — Good Time
Does Alan Jackson ever make a bad record? With 50 million sold over the course of the last 20 years, apparently not. Every album he's recorded, except his first, has gone at least gold — most of them double platinum or better. Good Time is no exception. This No. 1 album is loaded with hits. To Jackson's credit it's also loaded with songwriting talent: He wrote all 17 songs on the CD. From the celebratory "Small Town Southern Man" to the honky-tonk-meets-rockabilly "Good Time" to the lyrically wily "Country Boy," Jackson hits all the right chords. The nostalgic "I Still Like Bologna" recalls a simpler time when people picked blackberries and country music sounded like the country. But perhaps the most poignant and stirring song on Good Time is "Sissy's Song," which was written to commemorate the life of a close family friend whose untimely death in a motorcycle accident shook the Jackson household. If you don't have a copy of Good Time, now would be a good time to get one.
Randy Rogers Band — Randy Rogers Band
This Texas five-piece's latest self-titled album has everything a Texas country-music lover would want. The first track, "Wicked Ways," channels Waylon Jennings, while the dobro ballad "In My Arms Instead" and the gritty roots Americana tune "Didn't Know You Could" show the band at its best. Produced by the multitalented Radney Foster, the music maintains its tough edge and party-hearty sensibility while managing to say something, too.
Megan Munroe — One More Broken String
From traditional country to scorching Delta blues, Megan Munroe effortlessly glides through genre and tempo changes on One More Broken String. Ranging in style from feathery Jewel to raspy Bonnie Raitt, she somehow comes across as an angel on fire — no surprise there's a song with that title and that she wants to take the ride outside "to feel the moonshine coming down on me, in the back of a pickup wild and free." From the fiddle-in-the-front "Leavin' Memphis" to the mandolin-weepy "Lonely Tonight," Munroe gets the job done, one more broken string or not.
Zac Brown Band — The Foundation
From the Jimmy Buffett-inspired "Toes" to the road-weary "Highway 20 Ride" to the platinum-selling No. 1 hit "Chicken Fried," this record is a pleasurable musical sojourn. Think Bonnaroo jam band meets Phish, but with a Southern sensibility and country demeanor that make people sing along and smile. By turns moving and silly ("Sic 'em on a chicken / Bring out the butter and the flour we're ready to fry"), The Foundation shows Zac Brown for the down-home and honest band its fanatical fan base has known all along was about to break out big.
Bryan Clark — Gossip, Inspiration & Slander, Vols. 1 & 2
It might boil down to gossip, inspiration, and slander — it's also Texas roots and "Red Dirt" music from a flat-picking guitar genius. The first volume is acoustic, the second is electric. They share some songs, but, boy do the songs take on different personalities when they're plugged in — witness "Angelyne," the opening track on both volumes. The two albums are brilliant representations of Bryan Clark's talent and versatility. Why even try to decide whether you like the acoustic or electric better when all the songs are this good? Personal favorites are "Raven King," a delightful rendition of the bluegrass classic "Blackberry Blossom," and the curious "Dom the Saddlehorn."
Michael Martin Murphey — Buckaroo Blue Grass
From the Western Music Association Hall of Fame artist who brought us such classic albums as Cowboy Songs and hits like "Wildfire" and "Cowboy Logic" comes a groundbreaking record that has singlehandedly invented a new subgenre of music: "cowboy grass." Bluegrass done cowboy style makes for an inviting hoedown. Songs like "Lone Cowboy" and "Close to the Land" are the new songs here; the rest are Murphey's bluegrass classics and bluegrassed versions of his acoustic favorites, like "Lost River" and "Cherokee Fiddle." All the songs, new and old, combine that high lonesome sound with Western themes with splendid results.
Merle Haggard — Concepts, Live & The Strangers (6-CD box set)
Bear Family Records
Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, and Willie Nelson make up the dusty, whiskey-soaked trinity of outlaw country. But Haggard has been crowned America's poet of the common man. Hot on the heels of its six-CD Hag — The Studio Recordings 1969–1976 box set, Bear Family Records has released what is potentially an even more important collection of the Hag's music. Concepts, Live & The Strangers: Hag — The Capitol Recordings 1968–1976 is a musical journey into the lesser-known but just as significant back catalog of Haggard's career. From his Jimmy Rodgers-inspired Same Train, a Different Time to his tribute recording for Texas Swing legend Bob Willis, A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World, this box set walks many paths not necessarily familiar to most country-music fans, including Hag's gospel-music side (The Land of Many Churches gospel project). Instrumental recordings made by Hag and his band, The Strangers, show he's no musical slouch. Of course it's not all lesser-known gems: No Merle Haggard collection would be complete without his 1969 No. 1 classic, "Okie from Muskogee." It's here — a version recorded live in Muskogee, Oklahoma no less. An excellent collection and a must for any Haggard fan.
Jason Aldean — Wide Open
Broken Bow Records
Aldean's third record picks right up where his last two chart-toppers left off, mixing AC/DC with Lynyrd Skynyrd riff rockers and mid- to slow-tempo tunes. But Wide Open isn't just a rehash of his previous albums. Hard-hitting songs such as "She's Country" and "Crazy Town" pay homage to the power-chord gods, while slow burners such as "On My Highway" and "The Truth" show that the guy's got range and that when he's giving his music, he really is wide-open.
Willie Nelson — American Classic
Uncle Willie has done it again. With his fourth album released this calendar year, he may well have hit the musical jackpot. A lush collection of standards from the American Songbook, American Classic makes a fine sequel to Stardust, which went platinum five times over. Time-burnished songs such as "Fly Me to the Moon" and "Ain't Misbehavin'" work well when juxtaposed with duets with Diana Krall ("If I Had You") and Norah Jones ("Baby It's Cold Outside"). Smoky sax, elegant piano, and drum-brush grooves set the mood, while Willie's easygoing vocals glide over each song like a smooth-sipping whiskey. The outlaw, it turns out, is an American classic as much as any of the timeless tunes he so classically delivers.
George Strait — Twang
With his 38th album, Strait continues his unprecedented reign as the King of Country. Intelligent ballads and raucous boot-scootin' tunes such as the Top 10 hit "Living for the Night," the roadhouse rocker "Hot Grease and Zydeco," and the Texas-style guitar-driven "Out of Sight Out of Mind" make up the bulk of Twang. The Strait reign shows no signs of ending, but there just might be a songwriting heir apparent in the house: George's son, Bubba, co-wrote three tunes and solo-penned "Arkansas Dave," a song with an edgy Johnny Cash vibe.
Sugarland — Live on the Inside
This CD/DVD combo distributed exclusively through Walmart captures Jennifer Nettles and Kristian Bush at their best. The CD is mostly cover tunes, but what an extraordinary collection it is. An eclectic hodgepodge of songs from groups such as Pearl Jam ("Better Man"), Kings of Leon ("Sex on Fire"), Beyoncé ("Irreplaceable"), the B-52's ("Love Shack"), and REM ("The One I Love" and "Nightswimming/Joey," a cover of the REM classic that leads into Sugarland's own hit "Joey"), the CD has 10 songs; the live concert DVD — their Love on the Inside tour filmed in high-def in Lexington, Kentucky — has 16. The CD alone is worth the price, but seeing and hearing Sugarland's hits performed flawlessly live on the DVD clinches this deal. With all of Sugarland's commercial success, it's sometimes difficult to remember just how musically groundbreaking they really are.
Brooks & Dunn — #1s … and Then Some
This 30-song, two-CD collection highlights the career of one of the greatest singing duos in the history of country music. And it comes on the heels of their announcement that Brooks and Dunn will be going their separate ways in 2010. If you go out to see their Last Rodeo tour in 2010, it will be just that, and you're sure to hear all the hits here, from the classic "Boot Scootin' Boogie" and the banjo-driven "Hillbilly Deluxe" to the poignant slice-of-life of "Red Dirt Road" and "Cowgirls Don't Cry." Two new tracks, "Honky Tonk Stomp" and "Indian Summer," hold up well against the plethora of hits. This collection is a fitting final walk down a memory lane of 20 years of music making.
Radney Foster and the Confessions — Revival
Devil's River Records
You might call Radney Foster alt-country's Bob Dylan. Whatever you call him, he's an exceptional songwriter who exposes his soul on his latest CD, Revival. From the beautiful "Forgiveness" and the spiritually moving "I Made Peace with God That Day" to the rocking Dierks Bentley duet, "Until It's Gone," Revival brims with some hard-won faith and tough-times relevance. "A Little Revival" gets things off to a stirring start, but the most moving song here is perhaps the Darius Rucker duet, "Angel Flight," which is dedicated to the pilots who fly our fallen military men and women to their final resting places.